Category Archives: healthier

How We Stopped Using the S Word at Dinner

Kid's diet needs to be filled with healthy food.

Spinach.  It’s just rude.

There’s lots of worry today about kids getting fat, eating unhealthy,  filling up on high calorie  snacks.  Sure.  But do you know what the real problem is?  Every year, the bad foods get sexier, more fun, and cuter.  Meanwhile,  all the healthy foods are hanging around just as ugly as they were at creation.

Think about it.  On the left, we have cheese stuffed rising crust artisan supreme five topping gooey extreme deep dish tastes like take-out pizza with free cinnamon sugary twist bread and butter soft sticks.  On the right, we have broccoli.  Seriously: broc co li.  First off, what’s with that name? It sounds like something’s stuck in the garbage disposal. And, just what the heck is it?  And, how’d we ever get the idea kids would sit up and salivate when they hear it’s for dinner?

Food companies know better.  They don’t call those yellowish poo shaped things in the foil bag by what they really are.   Cattle feed, ground and mashed in monster vats with truckloads of syrup and salt.  Laced with won’t-ever-go-bad chemical secret powder.  Then squeezed out wet, blown with factory air, hit with dayglow dust, and shoveled into bags by the tons.

If they called them what they are, they’d never leave the shelf.  Instead, whole teamloads of high paid experts are hired to pimp them up. They get completely phony names, like ‘itos’ or ‘ingles’.  They get put on TV with big production numbers,  cool cartoon avatars, and insanely happy snackers.  Really, look at the people in those commercials:  are they wolfing chips, or antidepressants?

Next to these, vegetables just look like shiploads of immigrants at the Oscars.

Isn’t it time somebody decided to re-brand and market the food we really want kids to eat? Why do we have to keep trying to push something past tightly pinched lips that sounds like number one?  Are we permanently stuck calling it peas?  I say, time for a makeover. To get the ball rolling, here are five Good Food 2.0 ideas.

1. Mean Green Bully Blast  –  Today’s kids want edgy, power loaded foods that will make a difference on the school bus or swing set.  Have you ever known any cool kid with a bag of broccoli? ‘Broccoli’ is something musty from the old country you find in grandma’s trunk in the back of the closet that’ll get you flattened and banned.

2. Shred Head with Shag –  Yeah, it’s still just salad – and isn’t that a really appealing food name to kids.  Does any other word in the English language  start with ‘sal’ except saliva?  Why would anyone want to put that in their mouth? And, even worse, stop calling them lettuce and carrots – seriously, they sound exactly like something you’d accidentally gag up.  Le-eh-eht-tuce.  Carrrr-rot. Yuck.

3.  Dragon Scales with Wizard Stone Clusters –  I don’t know who thought up the name ‘granola’.  I do know, not one of the top 500 popular kid’s cereals is called ‘granola’.  And, anybody who believes I’m going to sit over breakfast and convince my tykes they’ll poop better when they’re fifty if they eat lots and lots of fiber instead of magically delicious marshmallow shapes, has never been to my house.

4.  Sunsweeties –  Nature has done a bang up good job of taking pure sunshine, turning it into delicious flavored sugar, storing it in fragrant, bright colored, fun shaped packages.  Then, we started messing with things, calling them ‘fruits’ and whatnot, and put the kids right off.  So now, companies buy them up, boil them down, dilute the goodness and mix it with gluey, inky stuff and sell the same thing as treats.  There’s something funny about that.  I’m just not sure what.

5.  White Leopard NinjaMight –  You can tell just how long ago cottage cheese got its name from the fact that (a) nobody has lived in a cottage since Hansel and Gretel and (b) they stopped making cheese inside them long before that.  And what kind of cheese comes out of a dank  little hut in the forest in the first place?  I can tell you my kids won’t touch it, no matter how good for their bones, with protein and all.

Try it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.  Put your own marketing whiz to use, and stop calling healthy foods by names that doom them to the garbage bin.  And, do us all a favor, share some of your ideas here, for other dads.  Or, just keep shoveling the s and peas.

My Affair With A Star

Dark clouds with the sun's star light  burning throughSometimes we find what we’re missing, and can’t look away.

Every parent has those days.  When life starts to feel tied down by lost socks,  late starts, long waits and detours.  The kind of day that eats patience like a tornado, and spits out insults for fun.  The kind that makes some white beach barefoot and burnt somewhere look like a perfectly acceptable career move.

And after weeks like that, no matter how bright the nightlight at home, a man sometimes thinks about what could be over the horizon, and feels the lure of another’s warm caress.

I’ve got that, bad.  And I’m having an affair, with a star.

It started innocently enough.  A few months back, I finally accepted that I’d reached the last notch in the belt, and the only six pack I’d likely see for at least a year was in the fridge.  I thought about what I’d been eating.  Looked for any  sign of diet control. Couldn’t remember any exercise besides bench pressing kids. Time to burn pounds.

I thought I’d kill two birds – get some P & Q out of the house and see if my heart still pumped – by working out on the running path near home.  My legs protested, my lungs ached, but I started, and worked on steadily pushing my distance further.

And for the first month, I burned, all right.  With humiliation.  Grey haired women stroked smoothly past me with grandmotherly smiles.  Women with babies and diaper bags and prams flowed around me like a flood past an immobile rock.  I was enjoying how every single person coming the opposite way would raise a friendly hand, and ask, ‘how are you doing’, until I realized, they were asking out of concern.  Kids running high school track bounded past so fast I actually appreciated the breeze.

There comes a time when we re-view where we actually fit in the scheme of things, and mine came.  Definitely not the Nike athlete.  Definitely not built for speed.  So rather than be iphone immortalized like an Amish farmer on the freeway, one morning I decided to take the back route, the dirt trails that wound through the hills, out of traffic.  They were tough and steep, rocky, narrow, winding, but to my happy surprise, nearly unpopulated and a challenge I discovered I could master.  Just what the doctor ordered.  And that’s where the affair started.

Out on the dirt path, rising out of the wooded canyon, across a sloping hillside, into the wide open, I ran into star shine, into a blinding bright shot of sunlight.  Sunlight reached out to meet me, and I stopped short, heart pounding.  I don’t know how I’d forgotten what it felt like to be so hot, exposed, sweaty, and primally alive.  Wide sky, empty land, and the energy of our neighbor star beating down.  Strong, beauty like a pressure on the skin, irresistably tempting, but with a dangerous streak. It hooked me, by the cells, like an ancient craving.

Since then, my legs have hardened with some muscle, I count in miles, and I had to buy a new, shorter belt.  And I can’t stop thinking about our next rendezvous; now, in the semi dark at the keyboard, when I’m on the road, or doing homework with the youngsters, and it keeps me going.  I count time between visits. When we get together, I smile, and take an eyeful for as long as I can.  A good romance is like that.

The Belgian Curse

Festive Brussel Sprout Centerpiece Tree Serving SuggestionSometimes, what you do to them, makes all the difference.

(Recipe below)

Growing up, I believed brussels sprouts to be the devil’s fruit.  Virtually inedible, sulphurous, gassy.  If the wind was right, I had early warning they were on the menu from more than a block away.  The hard green little cabbage wannabes topped my list of ‘if you can gag them down’ healthy foods.

According to history, brussels sprouts were eaten by Romans,  before their civilization collapsed.  I suspect barbarians simply left them in cartloads at the gates.  Thinking they were cute, the Romans gorged on them until they were all bloated, woozy, nauseous and disoriented, and easily conquered.

Given they were named after a city in Belgium, for many years I held a personal grudge against all Belgians as being responsible  for spreading them.  I suspected they were some sort of revenge weapon, payback to the rest of Europe for being unable to resist any invasion for centuries.

It wasn’t until I was married, and they showed up uninvited for dinner one evening that I learned brussels sprouts were not supposed to be boiled interminably until they’d dissolved  into an odorous grey glop.  That was my mother’s doing.  It turns out, overcooking releases the sulphurous compounds that made them so memorable.  Mom did some great dishes.  Brussels sprouts was not one.

Let me take this opportunity to publicly apologize to the Belgian people.

As fate would have it, being treated to a different upbringing than myself, my kids actually like brussels sprouts.  Which, considering they are packed with nutrients and anti-cancer goodness, is not a bad thing.

However, for reasons that should be clear, my personal favorite serving suggestion for brussels sprouts, illustrated at the top of the page, is as a festive table decoration or centerpiece.

If you’re looking for a simple way to get them into the kids, I strongly suggest roasting them in the oven, which turns them a bit sweet.

You’ll need:

Roasting pan or baking sheet, a large mixing bowl.  Preheat the oven to 400 F / 204 C

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt and three shakes of pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts

How To Make:

  1. Wash and drain the sprouts.  If they came on a stalk, take them off.
  2. Peel any yellow or discolored leaves from each sprout.
  3. Use a sharp knife to cut the stem and a small amount of the sprout bottom off.
  4. Cut the sprouts in half, top to bottom.
  5. Mix them in the bowl with oil, salt and pepper, coating them.
  6. Spread them on the baking pan, roast for 30 – 40 minutes, turning once with a spatula.
  7. Optional – sprinkle them with slivered almonds about 4 minutes before taking them out of the oven.

Peach of a Summer

Summer sun sure adds sweetness.  Long afternoons, glowing heat and tanned skin, and the true miracle of peaches.

If the Big Man spent time trying to find a lure able to coax yours truly deep into a  stifling hot field for hours of sweaty effort (where sports and loving were not involved), summer peaches would be hook, line and sinker reliable. It’s that bad.

I suspect the family knows this quirk about me.  At any rate, shortly after every Fourth of July it seems they all suddenly find themselves without a free weekend.  Dental appointments crop up, along with important and unavoidable back to school shopping, tire rotation, and mystery tummy ailments, that make it impossible to drive any farther than the mall or beach.

I first met stone fruit with my own parents many years ago, when we’d pick and load lugs of them, warm from the trees, into the trunk and onto the seats of my father’s hot black Plymouth, and breathe their suffocating fragrance with the windows down all the way home.  What followed were days of mason jars and bubbling great pots, juicy wet newspapers covered with pits and peels, my mother’s longest spoon, and perspiring forehead.  We had a great green bureau down in the coolest corner of the wood frame garage, that held a year or more’s worth of that summer’s bounty:  jams, jellies, and whole fruits, with golden lids neatly dated in black crayon in my dad’s hand.

And, there were my siblings, out on the summer porch, arms and bare chests covered with dripping, sweet flavor, unbelieving that a colorful bite could produce such sugary liquid mouthfuls.

“Good sun this year”, my Dad would say, and carefully remind us, every summer, that the trees and the farmers put real sunshine right in our hands. We were thankful.

“Good sun this year”, I say to my wife one morning, with the kids running out to play.  She looks to the calendar on the kitchen wall, with it’s messy code of exes and times.   I don’t mention I’ve already got the list of ripening and variety reports from a dozen growers out to a hundred miles in my back pocket.

“Peaches?”, she says, with a glance, like I’ve just proposed to try and win the car back in one last craps game.

“It’s good for the kids, healthy.  And real, fresh fruit,” I remind her.  She remembers the aisles and bins of wood-like substitutes they’re passing off at the supermarket.  Maybe she knows about the hook, line and sinker, too.

And on the road with the kids laughing in the back, under the blue hot dome and out in the blazing white sun, I’m thinking about sticky forearms and that first, unforgettable, juicy mouthful.

Eat This Vacation

Vacationing with six stomachs can be a distraction. I’m on the road with the family, seeing the country. And eating out, and eating through a car payment every day. While everyone is oooing and ahing at the waterfall, I’m seeing the gushing hole in my wallet. And trying to come up with ways to plug it.

Yeah, it’s the end of summer. For three weeks the family has been straining like olympic runners at the starting blocks to bolt the house and have a real trip. Maps drawn, reservations made. Special clothes, with colors and cuts that insure they will never be worn again, have been bought. Neighbors have promised one last time to keep plants and pets alive. And finally one fine bright sun-filled early morning all bags are packed, and we’re loaded and off, an excited, happy crew.

To the drive-through for breakfast. It’s the first stop on our vacation.

And we’re not the only ones. The place is packed with families like ours. Scampering kids doing laps around a long line of WalMart shorts sorting out who-wants-what?, while the happy meal crew behind the counter efficiently relieve us of some excess cash before we hit the road. Something starts nagging at the back of my mind.

And by about a third of the way through our trip, I’ve figured it out. The natural and man-made wonders of America have become bait in a spiders-web of eateries of every imaginable variety. Freeway exits are clogged with them, and they’re lined up miles deep before you actually get to see your destination. And small wonder. All that fresh air and vacation spirit makes for some big and frequent appetites. And expensive tabs by the end of the day.

Now, I’m all for the pleasures of eating out on vacation. Which is part of the problem, of course. So, it took some doing to come up with ways to still make food fun without breaking the bank or waistline. Here’s some ideas I tested that worked just fine, and with a little effort and looking, made for a good time as well.

1. Farm Fresh It’s easy to forget that food doesn’t come from a semi truck or fluorescent lit shelf.  All across America there are folks who actually grow and raise food. And many are more than happy to share some bounty directly with us. Farm stands, farm stores, and tours are not only great stops, but you can often load up on delicious and inexpensive eats you won’t find anywhere else. Some communities have farm trail maps, showing dairy, fruit, vegetable and other specialty growers. Otherwise, consult local papers or the internet. You’ll be shocked how many you’ll find, from cheese makers to fruit pies. You’ll never again think what you got in the supermarket was the way food should taste.

2. Farmer’s Markets These days even cities often have excellent farmers markets, one or more days a week. Discover one and you’ll find aisles of local fresh food, as well as a variety of cooking or prepared foods to take with you. It’s fun to wander, eat and shop, and discover tasty and unusual treats  to munch or carry away. Stock up on things like local jams, fruits, baked goods, snack type foods, and other items that will carry well, and make a great between meal feast or picnic.

3. U Pick If you’ve never helped your kids pull ripe berries or apples off a laden branch, or rake new potatoes out of the ground with their fingers, you’re depriving them of a lifelong memory. It may take a little scouting to find, but u-pick – for pick-it-yourself – farms are worth the hunt.  There’s the field or orchard, here’s a bucket or basket, and you’re in charge of harvest. What you’ll find varies by season and farm, so it’s worth calling ahead to see what’s ripe and ready. Be prepared to have to pull the kids away. You can load up to take home, or just pick enough for an afternoon. Prices are usually market or much better. And the best part is, you can select the ripest, freshest, best fruit or veggies yourself.

4. Mom and Pops Before the plastic arches,  every town and crossroads had at least one or more cafes or small restaurants serving food the local folks liked to eat, and many still do. It’s hard to compete with two dollar value meals these days, but some local eateries still serve working man portions, and good food for the value, with pride and a local twist or recipe. Again, the internet can be your friend to find one, but look for the places that are busy at meal time, and smell good when you walk through the door. Avoid the temptation to order what you always do. Instead, ask the waitress what’s popular.

5. Ethnic Eats American towns and metropolises are populated with people with ancestors from around the globe, and many still prepare all the good and wonderful menus they enjoyed in their native countries. You can explore for authentic wursts and sausages, dim sum, or tapas with the family and not only expand some horizons, but eat well and often inexpensively to boot. And why would you want to drive a hundred miles to eat the same thing you can get a mile from home anyway? Here’s a tip on how to pick a good one: eat at a place filled with people of the same nationality or ethnicity as the food.

6. Ice Chest You’ve probably got one, but are you using it? If you’ve stopped at any or all of the above suggestions, you could probably fill one or more with all kinds of goodies or leftovers, and skip having to make a restaurant stop every few hours. Bring condiments or such things from home, pick up food from the store to make meals and snacks, and you’ll save a bundle. Plus, you’ll avoid a lot of whining and driving around looking for someplace everybody wants to eat.

7. BBQue If you don’t want to haul your Weber or hibachi, nearly every park has a pit or grill you can use, and besides the fun of eating outdoors, you keep the tip. If you’re equipped for tailgates already, bring the gear. Otherwise, travel light, just pick up a stainless grill and some charcoal, and use rocks, or park cookouts. Just don’t torch the forest.

Near the end of our vacation, we were having as much fun looking for new and interesting places for food experiences as we were our planned attractions, and not only saved some money, but ate better than we’d ever imagined.  And, personally, it felt like a small victory, to sail by the chain joints, with nobody missing them a bit, and share a bit of what regular American folk do for food.

Sweet Little Lies

I’m feeling angry.  It’s about the folks who give advice on children’s diets and nutrition.  I didn’t realize it right away, but now it’s clear. They haven’t been telling the truth.

I’m talking about the government authorities, doctors, TV personalities, special reporters and school nutritionists.  You haven’t been leveling with us.  All that talk about healthy diet, and the food pyramid – you just happened to leave out the little part about the kids themselves.  Why does nobody mention that youngsters are basically cute little appetites on legs, automatically set to hunt down sweets and fats to eat or hide under the mattress? It’s a known fact.  Babies are born craving sugar. They can’t help it.

Keeping this vital information from parents makes no sense.  If I drove out of the dealership and my new car had an automatic and natural tendency to steer towards cliff edges, deep water and heavy immovable objects, I’d want to know about it BEFORE we were moving at speed down Suicide Mountain.  I’d want a warning, flashing right up there on the dashboard in big red letters.  Not some pretty colored signs halfway down the grade, suggesting that I use sensible driving tips to try and persuade it not to fly, smoking, off into the void.

And I’d have something to say to the folks making money selling them.

I don’t normally take all four kids at the same time to the grocery store.  Or promise them on the drive that they can each pick out one small treat.  I’m now up to speed why it’s a really bad idea.

We hit the aisles with one basket, and they split up chittering, happy as birds.  My idea was, they’d go find some favorite snack or food not usually allowed as part of the house menu.  Their idea was to inventory the food mart, and come up with the largest, lowest nutrient content, processed, food-like calorie bombs they could find.  The one’s with the big “Mom Would Never Let This In The House” stickers.  They set up a relay and proudly dragged their prizes to the cart.

‘Wait’, I’d say.  ‘What’s this?’

Through the bag I can make out colors I’ve never seen in nature before.  Before I get an answer, another box flies in.  It looks like a month’s supply of sprinkle covered, chocolate coated, fudge filled, artificial ice cream stuffed cones with nuts on top.

‘That’s not small,’ I say.

‘Look, Dad, they’re really, really small,” she says.  All fifty of them.

‘This is what I want’, I hear behind me.  My son with a cart of his own. I didn’t know they sold chip assortments in 30 bag family sizes.

‘Hang on, everybody’, I say, holding up my hands.  ‘Huddle up.  The deal was, one little snack or treat, not the biggest thing you can carry. Take all these back and we’ll go check this out together.’  They roll their eyes and slowly, painfully, unload the basket.

I deliberately steer to the fruit.  ‘Look, ripe mangos!’ They exchange looks, and I can see we’re in for a tough negotiation. Before long we start attracting attention from moms, who look at the kids, look at me, turn away with a hidden smile and shake their heads.  They can see I’m out of my league.

‘Can I…’, ‘No’, ‘How about…’ ‘No’.

Without thinking I turn into the cookie aisle, and instantly realize I’ve made a huge tactical blunder.  It’s the longest aisle in the store.  Spilling boxes from floor to ceiling.  You can smell the sugar.  The kids bolt like horses at a desert oasis.

Now, it’s a marvel of modern engineering that you can put just the same few ingredients together, and make endless varieties of products.  And it’s a testament to how skilled and expert companies have become in knowing what kids are wired to want to eat.  Let’s just say, they have it down to a fine science.  A very profitable science.  If the health and nutrition groups were half as good, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic.

I won’t go into the details of how this little expedition turned out.  There was upset, threats, and a shouting tantrum.  The kids stayed calm and polite, I was proud of them.  We compromised and took some vitamin fortified treats home and weathered mom’s disapproval.

But I’m still angry.

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Dad’s Diet Crises

Dad's cure for snack food dietQue sera, quesadilla.

It’s swimsuit weather, the kids are all summering, and I learned I’ve been letting the family down in the diet department.  The children lined up to bring this to my attention.  Apparently, there is NO FOOD in the house.  They are united on this point, and vocal, and the neighbors are now convinced we are starving them on purpose.

This comes as something of a surprise.  Our grocery bills haven’t gone down, and you have to put a shoulder to the door of the fridge to get it shut.  True, I haven’t got round to cleaning it out recently.  It’s on my list.  After ‘learn power napping’, and ‘schedule in-home insurance check-up’  I think.

But anyway, I quickly discover the problem.  Dad has NO CLUE what EVERYBODY knows, namely, what ALL OTHER children ALL get to eat ALL THE TIME, except at OUR house.

They take me to the kitchen to look into it.

And what I discover is, our home has become dangerously low on a whole cornucopia of sweet, salty, fat filled, factory processed munch that is essential to the development of modern preteens and adolescents.

The pantry has no frosted or creme filled anything.  Apart from a packet of stale ginger crisps, cookie stockpiles have gone to zero.  One half bag of white corn tortilla chips sits alone, as if potato chips had never been invented. And there’s no sign of any kind of ” -itos” whatsoever.  No candies, no frozen pops, chocolate, sweet rolls, toaster whatsits, mini cakes, sodas, or bags of sugar coated anything. It’s a crises.  We need to get to the bottom of this.

I blame my wife.

‘The house is full of food’, she says when I call.  Eggs, she tells me, and I repeat it to the kids.  They shake their heads.  Salad, rice cakes, popcorn, cheese, turkey, tuna, tortillas, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, fruits, whole wheat crackers, chicken, nuts.

‘Nuts!?’ they shout.

I try to reason with their mother.  ‘They’re not buying it’, I say.

‘There’s plenty of food’, she says, ‘and when they really get hungry they’ll eat it.  They just figure you’re a pushover and will go buy them junk.’

‘Your mother thinks you’re fat’, I tell them.  Not the thing to say to three girls, but I realize it a split second too late.  My son’s so skinny he knows I’m just blowing smoke.

‘You have to go to the store, NOW!’   They’re starting to get that wide-eyed ‘remember the time you left the sliding door open and Herby the hamster got out, permanently’ look.

‘I tell you what’, I say. ‘I’ll make you all a quesadilla’.

‘OK,’ they say, like maybe that was really the plan all along.

I fry up some onion til it’s just starting to get transparent, still crunchy. Then I melt a little butter in a pan, coat one side of a wide flour tortilla, and set it aside on a plate.  A little more butter, low medium heat, melted and the second tortilla goes in.  Spread on a layer of cheese, some chopped tomato, the onion, a little shake of cumin spice, some chopped up chicken, and the second tortilla goes on top, fast as I can.  I put a lid on, and lift it every minute or two to check the underside of the bottom tortilla. It needs to get light brown and flaky crisp, which it does just shy of four minutes. Then,  big spatula, hand on top, flip the whole thing in one smooth motion, cook the other side til it’s light brown, flaky crisp.  Hot and melted inside, done.

It takes two, but they polish them off and are gone.

Later I check again whether there’s any missed sweets,  behind the vases in the top cupboard.  Just to be sure.  Nada.  Well, that spared me having to get rid of them.  For the good of the kids, of course.